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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story oj the Alphabet               87
of alphabetic writing from this point of view, and used various abbre-
viations for particles and other common elements of speech A con-
sistent system of shorthand is an English invention. The first attempt
was made by Timothy Bright, who dedicated his book called Charac-
ter^ the art of short; swift aiid saiet writing to Elizabeth in 1588
Timothy Bnght's system, which was very difficult to memorize, paved
the way for others, notably Willis's Art of Stenography (1602). In 1837,
when Sir Isaac Pitman perfected what is still the most successful short-
hand script "for the diffusion of knowledge among the middle classes
of society," about two hundred different sorts of shorthand had been
put forward Shorthand as we know it to-day is the product of many
experiments in which some of the most enlightened linguists of the
seventeeth and eighteenth centuries took a hand It is the ft tut of close
study of the merits or dements of different systems of writing and
typography in general use.
Modern shorthand, hke Japanese script, is a synthesis. In so far as
the basic stratum is alphabetic, advantages of speed are due to the
combination of three principles, two of them suggested by charac-
teristics of Semitic scripts One is that the letter symbols are simple
strokes, easily joined. We recognize them by direction as opposed to
shape. A second is that the vowels are detached from the consonants, so
that we can leave them out, when doing so would lead to no doubt
about the identity of a word. The third is that arbitrary combinations of
consonants or vowels give place to a complete battery of single signs in
a consistently phonetic system. This phonetic alphabet is only part of
the set-up. There are syllable signs for affixes which constantly recur,
and logograms for common words or phrases
No tracts about the Real Precence, treatises on marginal utility
and table-turning, or expositions of the Hegelian dialectic and the
Aryan virtues arc accessible in Morse Code or Shorthand editions.
Still, students of language-planning for the Age of Plenty have some-
thing to learn from the work of those who have contributed to such
inventions and from the efforts of those who have worked to make
the written record available to the deaf and blind Of the two fore-
most pioneers of language-planning in the seventeenth century, one.,
George Dalgarno, was the inventor of a deaf-and-dumb alphabet,
the other, Bishop Wilkins, put forward an early system of phonetic
shorthand One result of early controversies over shorthand systems
was a lively interest in the defects of spelling, and hence in the sound-
composition of words An evolutionary attitude to Jtanguage was not